How has the railways affected Russia?
The railways played a crucial role in the modernization of both the world economy and national economies. Russia is no exception here.
It was Karl Marx who said that capitalism was built thanks to the railways. It provided the best transportation option inside any country at the time: the fastest, the most reliable and considerably cheap way to move things and people. National trade has flourished ever since in any country.
To make a long story short, the railways did play a strategic role, both economically and militarily.
Back in 1853, when Czar Nicolas I was starting the war against Turkey that later became known as the Crimean war, he couldn’t wait for Russia to easily defeat the sick man of Europe of the time, the Ottoman Empire. He was really sure of his country’s ability to achieve it militarily but he didn’t take into account one important factor:
Lack of a railway from the Russian heartland down south, to the Crimea.
This was Russia’s strategic weakness when it came to the task to quickly move reinforcements to fight against the British and French forces. The Western powers interfered pretty soon to stop Russia from becoming too strong.
They had transport ships to send their troops overseas and Russia didn’t have any railways to send its troops to protect its own territory. It was one of the key factors that led to the defeat.
Eventually Russia lost the Crimean War that finally led to the reformist policies of the next Czar, Alexander the Second, also known as the Great Reforms.
One of the biggest physical things (not counting administrative, legal and many other reforms) that happened during that reformist epoch, was building up the railway network all over the European part of the country. Moreover, most of the money that the Russian government was paid for the sale of Alaska in 1867 – $7,200,000 – had been invested into the construction of the railroads to the East of Moscow.
We traded the Russian America in exchange for the railways to kickstart capitalism, i.e. so much needed modernization.
Later, the legendary Trans-Siberian railway was constructed, linking the heartland with Siberia and the Far East, crossing all of Russia, linking Saint Petersburg with the Pacific Ocean. It had a tremendous effect in developing those far-flung regions.
Yes, most of the international trade is now carried by sea transportation. But when it comes to the development of a national economy, the railway system is priceless.
Build more motorways – it’s cheaper. Cretins.
It made my country. It changed my country. It enabled my country to do things that were simply unimaginable just a few years before its invention. One minute, no-one had travelled faster than a horse. Historically overnight, trains were bombing around at 60-70mph.
I’ve counted just short of fifty examples of how the railway has benefitted Britain. I won’t bore you except to mention three or four of those. (In fact, it would be so much easier to name some facets of life over which the railways had no effect!)
The building of the lines meant that, for instance, people living in the Midlands, those poor folk who were some seventy miles (100km) from the coast, could at last taste and eat fresh fish. It meant folk could travel, relatively inexpensively, and get to another town!
It provided a set time for all of the country – until the railways, every district had their own set of times – what was four o’clock in Edinburgh was a different time in Bristol. But it all had to become synchronised so that proper timetables could be established. And they were.
It provided an immense boost for the steel industry, as more and more lines were built. Yes, they were built to make money, rather than provide seamless travel, but at last, even the less wealthy could venture outside their own domain.
During both world wars, the railways provided a steady, quick and reliable platform to get troops to where they had to be.
And it made my country great, as we could export our technical knowledge and expertise to the rest of the world. Even today, the vast majority of Britain’s modern trains run over infrastructure that was invented and built by the Victorians! Incredible.
How ironic then that many of those countries to whom we gave our knowledge and expertise have now overtaken Britain in terms of their rail transport infrastructure.
You see, building more railways in the 21st century is outrageously expensive. It doesn’t matter how much more beneficial it is for the environment than building motorways that enable the polluting lorries and trucks to rule, the sheer expense of creating the infrastructure puts people off. Especially British people. Despite that, more and more Britains are now travelling by train, even though Government-led pricing means that our railways are one of the most expensive in the world.
So we have the ridiculous situation here in that the very nation which invented the whole concept, now has huge difficulties in providing just one high-speed line between the highly populated south (London) and the Midlands, to the North. To those who are against the idea, they say that knocking off a few minutes in journey times is simply not worth it. They, and by they I mean even so-called intelligent politicians, just cannot see that taking fast express trains off the existing over-crowded network and onto their own tracks, will allow the existing lines to offer far more efficient frequency of service to commuter trains, and allow freight traffic to be far less impeded.
The railways, amongst other things, made my country great – the great shame is that, 200 years after the first passenger line was built, many of our people, including the movers and shakers, would rather build more polluting motorways and do whatever they can to stop Britain regaining its position as a world leader in public transport. Cretins, the lot of them.
Nothing will change anything soon
Most of us discount the role of railroads in modern America. We believe that trains are largely relegated in history due to the rise of an excellent Interstate highway system. Large trucks (lorries) often clog these roads in long caravans. It’s these high profile freight carriers which we see as we travel about.
This is more than a little deceptive. According to Wikipedia: “Freight railroads continue to play an important role in the United States’ economy, especially for moving imports and exports using containers, and for shipments of coal and, since 2010, of oil. According to the British news magazine The Economist, “They are universally recognized in the industry as the best in the world.” Productivity rose 172% between 1981 and 2000, while rates rose 55% (after accounting for inflation). Rail’s share of the American freight market rose to 43%, the highest for any rich country.”
US freight rail company CSX says: “Moving freight by rail is 4 times more fuel efficient than moving freight on the highway. Trains can move a ton of freight over 470 miles on a single gallon of fuel.” That’s just crazy.
As good as the Americans are with freight, you would guess that they would also be world leaders in passenger traffic. But you already know that’s not true. Having given the issue a little thought, I believe there are several reasons for this:
- All Americans own cars (almost) so short/med trips are by road
- The US has an excellent highway system
- The country is too big for cost to cost trains to be time efficient
- Every mid-sized town has an airport
So the only place where rail makes sense is trips from say three to eight hours in length. Long enough to be tiring by car but short enough to not require a jet.
And that’s exactly what we see. The busiest passenger line in the US is the North-East corridor. A string of big cities about 100 miles apart stretching from Washington to Boston.
So why isn’t Amtrak more popular? As far as I can tell, it’s because the US Congress uses the company as its little playground. Let me explain: The company bleeds money and needs subsidies from the Government. Why? Because powerful congressmen require Amtrak to stop in little towns within their districts. Towns with few riders on money-losing routes. The company can be profitable but is forbidden from becoming so.
Because the Congress plays in Amtrak’s business, prices are set low for some routes and common sense business decisions are not implemented. Here’s an example: There are several great, scenic routes out West. Amazing two storey cars with glass domes.
Now, any business person would say you should make a couple of the best routes high-end vacations. Five Star meals and quality entertainment in rolling luxury. Perhaps the train would stop overnight at a high end hotel and passengers could take excursions.
Nope… no and hell no. These trips are not cheap but they are not high end. So Amtrak doesn’t compete with the Cruise Industry for vacation dollars. And the rolling stock is sub-standard for what I’m talking about.
So the story of America’s railroads is a mixed one. A world leading freight line and a sorry excuse for passenger service. Perhaps the saddest part is that Amtrak has no money for bullet trains. Nothing will change anything soon.